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Balmy Scenes : In summer watercolor show, offerings tend to soothe rather than challenge.


With summertime, the art gallery scene in the Valley, as elsewhere in the world, thins and art-watchers become a bit more forgiving. In the leaner mind-set of this languid season, we can more readily appreciate the efforts of painters less interested in art as challenge than art as balm.

Up at the Village Square Gallery, plein-air painter Jane Coulombe, wielding a friendly palette and an impressionistic way with a brush, shows a nice selection of landscape paintings. These are gentle, reassuring pieces, depicting unpretentious slices of nature.

Often, her interest seems to be less in the specific than the general aspects of what makes a scene memorable. The forest rules, with the trees a means to an end.

In "Summerland," a house on the hill catches the eye, but the real subject is the blurry profusion of flowers in the foreground, little bursts of yellow and pink. "Winter Rain" deals with a tree-flecked hillside, under a violet-suffused sky.

That work is notably different in brushwork and color treatment from "Spring Green," with its brusque strokes and dense smears of color. Within the pattern of thick-crust strokes, she nicely evokes light, as a central pocket in the yellowed middle of the composition.

Some of Coulombe's paintings are more generic in effect, filling in the blanks of a nice show, but her best work keys in on elements that aren't necessarily obvious. The sky is the thing in paintings like "Chance of Rain" and "The Bluff," where cloud formations make a dramatic appearance and hint at changes in the weather.

For something completely different, we also find Sylvia Falkove's cloisonne enamel pieces nestled into display cases in the gallery. Her tiny, vividly tinted creatures, from nature or from the alternate universe of "Alice in Wonderland" lore, convey a harmless charm and finicky detailing. Call it jewelry-for-art's-sake.

* Art by Jane Coulombe and Sylvia Falkove, through July 25 at the Village Square Gallery, 2418 Honolulu Ave., Suite C, in Montrose. Gallery hours: 1-5 p.m., Thurs.-Sun., and by appt.; (818) 541-9952.

Seek and Find: It takes some detective work to find the current watercolor show at Cal State Northridge if you're uninitiated, but it's worth the trouble. Take it from a lost soul who finally found his way. The Valley Watercolor Society's juried exhibition, under the title "Act One," doesn't take place at the usual site for art on campus--the Art Dome, which is closed for the summer. Rather, it is in the lobby of the new Performing Arts Center, back by the Student Union.

Watercolor group shows can be of wildly varying quality. They can encompass both serious artists interested in the medium's expressive and inventive potential as well as weekend warriors happy to paint pretty pictures. This show leans toward the former group, with instances of the latter.

Human interest pops in in surprisingly effective ways, as in Bob Mitchell's "Ennui at the Tivoli," a glimpse into the gray side of cafe culture. Greta Afhauser captures a palpable emotive quality in "The Waiting Room," with furrow-browed characters evincing tension and anticipation. Svetlana Karaseva-Eydel's straightforward portrait of a little girl, "Little Angel," is disarmingly fine.

Among the more atmospheric pieces, Kristen Barron's "Adobe Light" gives a fresh spin on the warm glow of Southwest ambience, and Alfred Tse's "Cool Morning" is a relaxed depiction of a Mediterranean-style house. The watercolor medium can be inherently calm in nature: Sara Coyle's "Tulip Time" is a gentle coo of a scene, while Clonard Thomas' "Starlight" is an abstraction.

Edna Okui's "Persimmons" takes advantage of the spareness of the medium, breathing with its ample white space, in contrast to the lusty color of the fruit. Still-life tradition returns, with a twist, in Teri Starkweather's "A Great Yearning." Yes, it's a still life, rendered in a skillful, realist's mode, but the objects are toppling, as if by the force of an earthquake.

Or is that just the knee-jerk reaction of an observer in the heart of Northridge? Whatever the case, watercolor gets a nice varietal run for its money here.

* Juried exhibition by the Valley Watercolor Society, through Aug. 30 in the Performing Arts Center, CSU Northridge, 1811 Nordhoff St. in Northridge. Gallery hours: Tue. and Thurs., noon-4:30 p.m.; one hour before Performing Arts Center events, and by appt.; (818) 677-3943.

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